In Frontier Goiás, David McCreery takes up the challenge of writing the history of an isolated backwater. In a field dominated by studies of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, this study of a “periphery of a periphery” is a refreshing change. It contributes to a small but growing literature on rural Brazil and on nineteenth-century state building. McCreery’s Goiás is remote, relatively impoverished, and underpopulated. Landlocked, it attracted mostly poor, colored, landless migrants who then clashed with a widely dispersed indigenous population. However, settlers with capital, influence, and slaves also peopled this remote frontier, thereby replicating social hierarchies prevalent in Brazil’s core regions.

McCreery apologizes, though he need not, for the descriptive nature of this study. The basic narrative of many rural regions of Brazil is still poorly understood. This empirical grounding alone provides a valuable contribution. But McCreery does much more than that. First, he conceptualizes the...

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